Bruce Feiler wrote about saying thank you at the Academy Awards in the Sunday New York Times. The observations in his article seem to me to have usefulness for us as trial Lawyers. Here are some of the things the article discussed.
At this year’s ceremony the speakers are allowed only 45 seconds which is about 65 words or two tweets to say thanks for the award. So, what advice do the experts have for the award winners? The first is be prepared. The biggest mistake most winners make is not prepared. When you only have 45 seconds say something meaningful you need to prepare in advance the article maintains. Isn’t this also true of us as trial lawyers? Don’t we, too often, simply try to start talking with the belief that we able to say something rational but without preparing. The result is a whole lot of unnecessary words that turn out to be a rambling and often boring talk or argument. How much better it would be for us to have taken the time in advance to think about it and plan an outline of the talk.
Another rule of the experts was to be grateful, but not overly grateful. Oscar acceptance speeches often include long lists of thank you’s. The article points out that that is not only boring but worse, the people you leave off the list will be angrier than the people you included on the list. The recommendation was to make a general thank you to everybody on the team. However it is suggested that whatever you do don’t forget to thank your spouse or family member. What came to my mind, when I read this, was how we often thank the jury in our final summation. We need to remember, if we are going to thank people, to include the court personnel and members of our trial team who are not lawyers – the people we have engaged with during the trial while the jury was watching.
It is recommended that the person be apolitical. The experts point out that the actor is getting an award for acting and not for their political views.
The last rule was in my the most important one. That recommendation was to be sincere, “even if you have to fake it.” A management consultant was quoted as saying
“The best way to be sincere is to actually be sincere. But short of that there are a few techniques to first, pause. Visually it helps because it makes people feel like you are actually overcome with emotion. Second, think before you talk. Say something like, I am so overwhelmed. This gives you time to compose yourself and say what you intended. Above all, when you command the stage, your goal should be to connect. The way we communicate today is so inauthentic. People break up over texting. When you’re in a big moment like you want people to feel closer to you and say, that’s how I would feel if I got that award. If you can do that, you are a star.”
My reaction was that while you might be able to fake sincerity in a 45 second appearance & talk, you have no chance of faking sincerity to a group of six or twelve people over several days. They have built in human antennas that will detect insincerity faster than you can talk or act and if they find it, you lose all credibility. Since a trial is a battle of impression and not logic the key component of impression is being truthful as well as genuine. If you are not honest with the jurors they will figure it out very quickly and if they conclude you have tried to fool them in some way, they will punish you for it. My rule for trial lawyers is be truthful, be honest and be yourself, not someone else you pretend to be.